Thursday, July 26, 2007

A sort-of-crazy woman works with my kid. Should I talk to her boss?

Dear HTT,

My job involves interacting with a good number of volunteers. While most of these volunteers are lovely people invested in being helpful, one is so difficult to get along with that many of us suspect she has a borderline personality disorder. In person, she's more or less OK, if whiny; but in the 2,000-word passive-aggressive vitriolic e-mails she sends out at 4am, she complains of offenses against her, tosses out unpredictable insults, and threatens to remove herself forever from our workplace in a "goodbye cruel workplace" sort of way. Pretty much everyone is aware of her dysfunction, and frankly, more than a few of us would be happy to see her move on; but since the nonprofit I work for is in a rehab business of sorts, our jobs include letting her volunteer and helping her feel safe. We're all well practiced at turning the other cheek, and we're developing strategies for not getting emotionally punched out every time.

My problem isn't my workplace, where she's a volunteer, but her workplace, where she's a tenured employee who comes in contact with many children, including mine. As I wrote before, she seems OK in person, but it's those split-personality e-mails that have me worried, especially because I seem to be a convenient focus for much of her anger at the world (though others who receive messages from her also report being foci). In person, she doesn't seem like she'd take out her anger at me on my child, but I wouldn't put anything past her e-mail persona. Recognizing that she's likely only to be in occasional in-person contact with my child, should I nonetheless speak to her supervisor to request that she not be allowed to be alone with my child? I imagine her boss also knows about her idiosyncrasies, and I don't want to get her in trouble--I suspect she does her job pretty well, even if she bombs as a volunteer--but I also want to feel that my child is safe.

Sincerely,--What Would HTT Do?


If you have any qualms about your child’s comfort and safety, you should talk to the woman's supervisor. But before you request that she not be allowed alone with your child—a request which is, let’s face it, an implicit accusation—why don’t you first simply express your concerns, calmly present what you know about this woman’s behavior, and see what the supervisor has to say? Phrase it just as you have here: “I don’t mean to get Ms. X in trouble. I suspect she does her job well, but I have witnessed some troubling behavior at her volunteer gig and I want to make sure there isn’t any spillover in her work with my child.”

It’s possible her boss will be able to put your fears to rest in any number of ways. If not, then ask that your child not be left alone in her care. If there’s only the occasional opportunity that he would be anyway, it’s not like you’re demanding any major changes or concessions.

You don’t want any niggling fears about your child’s well being, especially when this is one of the few situations in his life over which you’ll have some control. It’s good of you to turn the other cheek on this woman’s semi-abusive volunteer behavior, but I don’t think you need to be as tolerant while your kid is in her care.

Good luck!

Sunday, July 22, 2007

It's been too nice to blog.

This weekend's weather was a mid-summer gift. High of 84, low in the upper 50s. In July. In North Carolina. It's this type of climate that used to make me pine for Seattle or Portland every summer before I decided my mental health would probably suffer during their rainy seasons (all three of them).

At any rate, I've been away and I haven't quite gotten back in the swing of things. Heather Havrilesky, who writes a hilarious column about t.v. for Salon, said something that rings so true for me: "My personal rule is, if I don't sink into a major existential crisis when I get back from vacation then I wasn't gone for long enough." This happened both times when I returned from Ireland. I moped and shuffled around my house, listening to nothing but traditional Celtic music, drinking hot milky tea, scanning on-line dating sites for men named Seamus, and setting the AC low enough to pretend I needed to bundle up in my new Blarney woolen throw.

A week in St. Lucia wasn't long enough to set off a crisis. (For better or worse. On the one hand, I'm glad not to be full of existential angst; on the other, I wouldn't have minded being gone longer). But I did get out of the habit of writing.

I'm getting back to it, though, and I've got a question to answer. So stay tuned. In the meantime, here's a shot of the Caribbean from the plane.

And one of the Pitons, St. Lucia's signature site:

One of The Black Pearl, allegedly featured in "Pirates of the Caribbean":

And, finally, one of a little fishing village on the island's east coast:

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Crispy around the edges

Quick update from St. Lucia: Though slightly burned in typically-ignored spots, my SPF 30 and 55 sunblocks seem to be doing the job. Have yet to find a hat for my huge noggin. Fortunately, I brought an old baseball cap, which I was desperately hoping not to resort to. Dorky though I may look, at least my face isn't fried.

It's an hour and a half drive from the airport to the hotel, and my cab driver was a great tour guide. The island is lovely and green, with mountains, banana plantations, rain forests, rocky coasts on the eastern side, and sandy beaches with turquoise water in the west.

Work starts tomorrow, for three days, and then a bit of vacation. I'm hoping to arrange an official tour, but if that falls through, I can always call the cab driver and plan my own day trip. He knows his stuff!

Friday, July 6, 2007

My SO's social life still revolves around his ex-wife. I love him but enough is enough!

Dear HTT,

SO and I have been living together for 8 months. Dating for almost 4 years. Last night at dinner with friends he called me by his ex-wife’s name. About a year ago he introduced me by the name of his ex-sister-in-law. He is very close friends with his ex-wife and her present husband. They are the focal point of 95% of his social life, the ex-wife and her large extended family. My SO has remained a part of this extended family. They have been divorced about 14 years. She calls him and tells him about family dinners, parties, religious events for her family (they/we are jewish). He has called her “baby” on the phone while I was standing there. Told me when we first started dating that seeing her remarry was a humbling experience due to the fact that he loved her more than anything.

I have about decided that I am not an SO in his life but rather a housekeeper/roommate. I really don’t think I need to stay in the relationship. I love him but enough is enough. I’m at a loss –I am 62 years old and am too old for this kind of crap. He treats me well otherwise. He apologized and I accepted his apology but I just feel like I get more doses of his ex-wife than I care to have. She is a nice woman but controlling and domineering.


I’m so sorry that this situation is causing you pain and frustration. I can imagine the sting of being called by the name of an SO’s ex-wife. I’m prone to jealousy (though I fight it), so I’d have to summon a lot of strength, and not a little pride, to graciously accept his continuing friendship with his ex and her family.

But if I loved him enough, and if I thought he loved me as much, I’d try. I could probably find ways to work around the social life problem; namely, I’d make sure I had an active social life of my own and work out some compromises about how much time we/I had to spend with the ex. If I truly felt loved and appreciated, I would forgive his slip of the tongue--although I’d not be above hurt feelings and an argument about it first--and eventually accept that this probably wasn’t a reflection of his feelings for me. I conducted an admittedly unscientific poll and found that several of my friends had called their well-loved current partner by an ex’s name (or had been called by the ex’s name).

But reciprocal love would be the key for me. You say you feel like a roommate and housekeeper, who is “treated well.” Is that how you feel most of the time, or did you write that in a moment of frustration? Honestly, if I regularly felt that way in the presence of my partner, it wouldn’t matter whether he addressed me as Goddess and had no ex-wife. I’d have to move on.

I don’t know if I have a jaded or practical view of relationships, but I think all of them require regular and healthy doses of compromise and forgiveness. But two important caveats:

(1) Compromise and forgiveness are extremely hard work, so the relationship has to be worth it.

(2) Compromise and forgiveness have to flow both ways.

Only you can decide whether your relationship is worth the work and whether your guy is worthy of forgiveness. And if you haven't already done so, I think you should find out whether he is willing to compromise on how much time he socializes with the ex. (If he's been divorced for 14 years and still spends 95% of his social life with her and her extended family, he might not be.) You sound like you've already made your decision; if you have, I hope you're feeling that you've done the right thing.

Good luck,

Monday, July 2, 2007

I don't want my picture posted on my friend's web site. Am I a privacy nut?

Dear HTT,

A friend of mine keeps a personal website with tons of personal information posted. I, on the other hand, am an extremely private person who doesn't want anything personal posted anywhere.

My friend and I travel together and he posts photos from our trips. That's always been fine with me because he used an online service that
required an email invitation or password to view the photos and it was
nice to share among friends. Now he's switched to a different service that allows anyone anywhere to view our photos. Granted, not many people out of our circle of friends visit his website and wouldn't have a direct link to his photo album. And I doubt strangers would look at another stranger's vacation photos. But they are out there and I feel very uncomfortable with it.

I realize that I am a little nutty about personal privacy, so that's why I need your advice. Am I being too nutty? And how offensive is it for me to ask him to password-protect his online photo album?

Dear Private,

You might be asking the wrong person, since I put personal anecdotes out there all the time and practically beg people to read them!

Then again, self-centered though this may be, I mostly only talk about myself in my personal posts. When I do mention friends, I don’t give their names, and sometimes I change details about them to protect the innocent. I think I’ve posted only one picture of a friend, and I asked her first if she minded. (She didn’t.) I have talked about family, but only in general terms, not naming any names.

So, no, I don’t think you’re being irrationally protective of your privacy. In my case, vanity would be an even bigger issue. I wouldn’t necessarily want the whole world to have access to a picture of me, say, climbing on horse when I was in Costa Rica. (I wasn’t exactly nimble at it.) And I’m sure people have plenty of other unflattering pictures of me that I’d rather were kept in a drawer somewhere, in the old-school manner of photo storage before it was easy to dump all 500 vacation pictures on a web site.

But, whatever the reason, be it privacy or vanity, I don’t think you’re being nutty. I don’t know the ins and outs of all the picture-posting options out there, but just the other day my brother was extolling the virtues of a site that lets you password protect some albums and not others, easily. So, given that you don’t need to be some kind of web programming genius to do it, I think it wouldn’t hurt to ask your friend to install some kind of privacy feature on his pages. Or, at least, to take down the pictures of you.

Take care,